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For the last week we’ve received many phone calls asking the same question: “What’s the atmosphere in Havana? Is it true what’s been rumored?” I tell them the temperature is a little lower, it hasn’t rained and I comment that they’re going to ease up on the licenses for taxis.
Those who inquire become cryptic, I imagine so that they will do me no harm, but I just don’t understand what they want to know, because as it turns out I don’t have a sick uncle and when I was born my grandfather (who was mambí*) was no longer among the living. Yes, it’s true that there are more police on the streets, but Granma explained that it’s for better traffic control. It’s false that flowers are scarce and that you have to work to find rum in the market. As far as I know, there have been no mass arrests, nor have they renovated the tunnels or the bomb shelters.
I haven’t noticed any perceptible changes, though perhaps, and this is totally subjective, the air seems more transparent and the earth a little lighter, but I don’t think those are the kinds of details friends are asking about.
Poster: Top text = The Youth, Bottom Text = We will not fail.
Mambí: A soldier who fought against Spain in the Cuban War of Independence (1895-98).
Now that it’s fashionable to recall what happened half a century ago, I want to dust off my oldest sin, which goes by the name of Horacio.
Horacio Otaola was the most brilliant student of the Enrique José Varona school in the city of Camagüey. We studied together in primary school until 1959. I still remember his impeccable Palmer penmanship, his always sharp Number 2 pencil, his notebooks always neatly lined, the speed with which he always answered in Math and History.
Horacio’s father was the owner of some sawmills and realized very early the direction that the newly triumphant revolutionary process would take. For something he did, or something they said he did, I’m not precisely sure, he went to jail for political reasons. Their properties were confiscated and the family lost the its means of support. Then Horacio was put to work, at only 13, as a messenger in a market.
The market was private, and if I remember right was a “Grocery” on the corner of San Esteban and San Fernando streets, very close to my house. Every day, early in the morning, I was forced to pass through the place on my way to school and that was the time when Horacio was there running errands for the customers.
Horacio Otaola was my friend and the first person I envied. Seeing him in his new situation, stripped of the possibility of having a future in line with his talent, made me feel bad. It’s very difficult to change the envy for pity, but that was not the worst. Without, then, being able to explain it, I refused to greet the boy who had been my classmate for six years.
I have never been able to find, in my always open arsenal of arguments, a single reason that justifies my behavior. Until today I have carried this sin.
Forgive me, Horacio.
The speech by Army General Raúl Castro on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution, was another bucket of cold water thrown on those who still attributed to him sense of pragmatism and a desire to make changes in the country.
In barely thirty minutes, he made a dozen references to his brother Fidel, some of which quoted others to praise him; on eleven occasions he mentioned U.S. imperialism and a score of time he referred to historical facts. Of the future, he said that the next fifty years will also be a permanent fight and that we shouldn’t think they will be easier.
Most notable, in my opinion, was the lack of programmatic suggestions. For example, he didn’t mention that this year the much postponed sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party will meet; he said nothing of the announced structural changes nor of any kind of plan to increase food production nor of improving the disastrous housing situation; nor did he refer to eliminating the absurd prohibitions that remain in place nor the forthcoming ratification of the Declaration of Human Rights signed last year, but above all, the greatest absence in the speech was socialism.
As I listened to him say that the leaders of tomorrow should never forget, “that this Revolution is of the humble, for the humble and by the humble,” I thought I had heard wrong, but the daily paper Granma confirmed that I’m not going deaf, as this phrase was chosen for headline on the front page. For those who have forgotten, this historic phrase was pronounced by Fidel Castro on April 16, 1961, and marks the moment of the declaration of the socialist character of the Revolution. What happened was that Raúl left out the adjective “socialist” in front of the noun, and so left out of the expression the precise word that made it historic: Socialist.
After having made that small discovery, I went back to reading his speech in Santiago de Cuba and, completely perplexed, found that in his entire discourse there was no mention of the ideological elements of the system. For example, when he mentioned Julio Antonio Mello, founder of the first communist party, he said Mello was “the bridge between the Martí-inspired thinking and the more advanced ideas.” Why didn’t he clearly say between the Martí-inspired thinking and Marxist-Leninism? A little later he defined the revolution as “a righteous social cataclysm.” What happened in the early years, after fully overcoming the Moncada program, was called here, “the logical evolution of the process.” He said, almost immediately, that in Cuba American history “took different directions.”
The rest is metaphor. When he had to explain that the class struggle started to eliminate the exploitation of man by man, he said it began “to sweep away dishonor and inequalities”; that as Cubans, “we adhere to the highest ideals of Martí: the cost of freedom is very high, and one must resign oneself to living without it, or decide to pay its price,” which “has been a firm resistance, far from fanaticism, based on solid convictions,” and that the Revolution “never has ceded one millimeter on its principles.”
Where does this sleight-of-hand language come from? Why does Raúl Castro ask for the militancy “that prevents the destruction of the Party,” and doesn’t even call it by its full name: Communist Party of Cuba [PCC].
I wonder if the Marxist-Leninist ideas, which according to the statutes of the PCC govern the policies of the country, will have happily gone into hiding; I wonder if the construction of the socialist system has finally stopped being the most important purpose of the Revolution that just turned fifty. I would like to know if these failures are the result of unjustifiable neglect, or of the deliberate intention to go on recycling other more acceptable positions.
I don’t ask these things because the abandonment of an already out-of-date ideology saddens me, but because I believe that after half a century, we are again facing the uncertainty of 1959, when the people didn’t know to what destiny the leaders of the process were taking them.